Getting intimate
Local bra maker gives sneak peak at innovations for 21st century

An employee of Urban Homestead arranges a display of the Intimate Health “brassage” bar, which was invented by Durango designer, Christina Erteszek, who happens to be the daughter of famous bra designer Olga./Photo by Jared Boyd

by Jeff Mannix

Striving always to harness the energy and buoy the spirit of our quixotic community, the Durango Telegraph keeps you abreast of the achievements, noteworthy events and history, both past and in the making, of this ever-changing corner of the globe. We venture intrepidly, on occasion, where few dare to tread, risking opprobrium from the prudish and ebullience from the unrestrained. Today, we take on the touchy subject of women’s bras.

For half you loyal readers, the bra is no mystery – indeed it is a functional appurtenance worn for physical comfort and social conformity. For the other half, it’s a contraption that at once inflames desire of hidden treasure and confounds digital dexterity, often to the point of heightened frustration unknown to any other hormone-driven endeavor. For either grouping, the bra has an interesting history of appeal, and it should be noted that the Telegraph is the first to bring full disclosure to this useful and provocative undergarment.

In a town that once was known for legions of miners and ranchers and tradesmen, then builders, drillers and vacationers, we now add our very own bra designer. While not exactly a household name, Christina Erteszek holds seven patents on bras and is the famous daughter of the most famous and successful architect of bust support, a holder of a woman’s record of 28 patents and known throughout the world by her first name alone: Olga.

The odyssey begins in Krakow, Poland. Olga Bertram, the daughter of a corsetier and watch maker, fled Poland with her future husband in 1939 in advance of the Nazi occupation. She and John Erteszek, a lawyer, both in their early 20s, emigrated first to Russia then to Japan, from where they secured a visa to the United States and settled in Los Angeles in 1941. Times were tough for the waves of immigrants fleeing Europe, especially for Jews like the Erteszeks who left family, belongings and professions behind in the killing fields of Hitler’s madness. Olga secured a job in a sweatshop making girdles and brassieres, and John found work in sales.

One day, sitting on a trolley car, Olga observed a woman whose hosiery was rolled at the knees to keep them up. She commented to her husband, John, that it was a shame that women didn’t have at least some bit of finery to hold up their stockings, something to make them feel feminine no matter how austere their conditions during the sacrifices for the war effort. John challenged her to design and make something herself, so they invested five dollars to rent a used sewing machine and another five dollars in material, which Olga picked out at the notions department of the elite Bullock’s Wilshire Department Store.

Olga put together a dozen lace-trimmed garter belts that John sold to the foundations buyer at Bullocks. And thus began an industry that soon was to employ 2,000 women making fashionable undergarments and a company that has endured from the 1940s to today as America’s leading maker of lingerie, sleepwear and loungewear. Olga directed a team of 17 designers who changed the look of women’s confining “unspeakables” to fashion apparel that shaped the bust, smoothed the tummy and enticed the men. John found his metier as marketer and salesman, insisting that Olga herself appear in the advertising under the tag line, “Behind every Olga there really is an Olga,” implying that women who wore her garments would achieve her sophisticated style and elegant looks. The Olga Company was one of the first to initiate profit sharing for employees, and in 1967 it became a publicly owned corporation valued at $67 million. In 1984, the Olga Company was ranked as a Fortune 500 company and one of the best 100 companies to work for in America, and Olga and John Erteszek were named “California Industrialists of the Year” in 1985.

Olga’s heir apparent, Christina Erteszek, grew up in the company whose main focus was the woman’s bust. “I’ve seen more women’s breasts than probably anyone alive today,” says the bright-eyed and open-sweatered Olga in her office at 530 Main Ave. “The body is architecture, especially the woman’s body,” espouses Christina, “so it makes no sense to hide the symmetry, the beauty, the form. My mother was the first lady of intimate apparel, and while the Olga Company was sold in 1986, I continue the pursuit of providing women with luxurious undergarments, only now I’m focusing on organic materials and apparel that promotes feminine health as well as feminine appeal.”

Christina, with her husband Fritz Geisler, have created a new company called Intimate Health by Christina (www.intimatehealth.net), offering the first intimate apparel line to incorporate health-enhancing features and earth friendly fabrics into each garment. Their “Brassage” line of bras is made of Swiss organic cotton and incorporates a patented LETflow Technology into the sides of the garment to provide a continuous, gentle message just in the wearing. It is said to stimulate lymphatic flow and promote healthy breast tissue. Likewise, her “Silver Linings” panty collection combines Swiss organic cotton with pure silver in the gusset (you’ll have to discover the meaning of that word yourself) that provides an anti-microbial environment. “Twenty-five percent of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton,” exclaims Christina with alarm, “and silver has been used forever for its antibacterial properties; we’ve combined silver with pesticide-free cotton in a number of comfortable and stylish designs: soft as a cloud, eco-friendly and designed to eliminate skin irritants and hug your every curve.”

Garments designed and made by Intimate Health by Christina are wending their way into lingerie stores and upscale women’s catalogs like Norm Thompson and Gaiam, and are available in Durango at Urban Homestead. So while Durango has a distinguished history of mining, railroading, ranching and archeology, those things are déclassé and fusty compared to our ascending reputation as the cradle of the modern American woman’s breast. •

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